Italy: 1861 to the Rise of FascismWorld War II

1861 to the Rise of FascismWorld War II

From 1861 until the Fascist dictatorship (1922–43) of Benito Mussolini, Italy was governed under the liberal constitution adopted by Sardinia in 1848. The reigns of Victor Emmanuel II (1861–78) and Humbert I (1878–1900), and the first half of the reign of Victor Emmanuel III (1900–1946) were marked by moderate social and political reforms and by some industrial expansion in N Italy (mainly in the 20th cent.). Periodic social unrest was caused by the dislocations attending industrialization and by occasional economic depression. In the underdeveloped south, rapid population growth led to mass emigration, both to the industrial centers of N Italy and to the Americas.

The outstanding statesmen of the pre-Fascist period were Agostino Depretis, Francesco Crispi, and Giovanni Giolitti. Colonial expansion was emphasized under Crispi, but was otherwise sporadic. A severe setback to Italian colonial aspirations was the establishment (1881) of a French protectorate over Tunisia; it was an important motive for the conclusion (1882) of Italy's alliance with Germany and Austria (see Triple Alliance and Triple Entente). Later, Italy acquired part of Somaliland in 1889 and Eritrea in 1890, but further advances in NE Africa were checked by the Ethiopian victory (1896) at Adwa. Libya and the Dodecanese were conquered in the Italo-Turkish War (1911–12).

In World War I, Italy at first remained neutral. After the Allies offered substantial territorial rewards, Italy denounced the Triple Alliance and entered (1915) the war on the Allied side. Although the Italians initially suffered serious reverses, they won (1918) a great victory at Vittorio Veneto, which was followed by the surrender of Austria-Hungary. At the Paris Peace Conference, Italy obtained S Tyrol, Trieste, Istria, part of Carniola, and several of the Dalmatian islands. Italian possession of the Dodecanese was confirmed. However, these terms granted far less than the Allies had secretly promised in 1915. Italian discontent was evident in the seizure (1919) of Fiume (see Rijeka) by a nationalist band led by Gabriele D'Annunzio.

Within Italy, political and social unrest increased, furthering the growth of Fascism. The Fascist leader (Ital. Il Duce) Mussolini, promising the restoration of social order and of political greatness, directed (Oct. 27, 1922) a successful march on Rome and was made premier by the king. Granted dictatorial powers, Mussolini quashed opposition to the state (especially that of socialists and Communists), regimented the press and the schools, imposed controls on industry and labor, and created a corporative state controlled by the Fascist party and the militia. The Fascist economic program as a whole was a failure, but some programs of lasting value (e.g., the draining of the Pontine marshes and the construction of a network of superhighways) were undertaken. The problems caused by an increasing population were aggravated by drastic immigration restrictions in the United States and by the economic depression of the 1930s.

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